My Limitations, God’s Abundant Grace
I wasn’t in Control. He is
Winter in Toronto is usually mild; however there are times when it gets so cold that I don’t feel like going out at all. However today the weather was just great for a long stroll in the park so I decided to bring my dog to a dog park close to the Allen Gardens Conservatory. Along the park are a mixture of different trees lined on the pathways while some are just in and around the park. As I walked, I noticed this one particular tree. It is a very tall Birch Tree. Since it is winter, its leaves were all gone yet it looks magnificent. I cannot help myself from admiring its beauty, its shape and its greatness. Its white and brown barks were a great complement to the snow below. Its branches lifted up with such symmetry and pattern, arched up in the sky, as if praising God for its gift of life and for just being there for whatever season. Spring, summer, fall or winter. This tree must be more than 40 years old. To me it was just an amazing sight. Then I remembered that it was about the same time of the year when I lost my hair through chemotherapy. It is winter once again and I could still remember the gripping side effects of chemotherapy. I used to groan, cry and ask the Lord Jesus for help because to me the pain was unbearable that it affected my whole being. I usually took 1000 mg of Tylenol every four hours. Food was bland and had no taste at all. It was so hard to eat. I also couldn’t walk long distances as I was very weak. Remembering things was a challenge, I couldn’t respond immediately to a conversation as I had what they call the “chemo fog”. Although, until today, there are times when words do not come to me easily. I need time to think of things to say. But like the tree in the park I am reminded of God’s goodness and his unfailing love. Although my thinking faculty failed me at times and lost my hair to chemo treatment, I felt empowered because I realized that it’s not the outward look that matters. It is the innermost beauty and energy that comes from God that radiates that beauty within. Like the tree, there is always something to thank God about. No matter the circumstances. To me, my life is a gift. I thank God that I am here.
Cancer used to be a scary word for me.
I was 43 years old when I was diagnosed of breast cancer that was in September of 2011. My initial reaction was shock. I felt I was handed a death sentence. I cried, when I heard the news, good thing my sister was there because the news was so overwhelming for me. I was still grieving from my moms loss, now a specialist says, it’s malignant. What does that mean? Then in my head I said, “Lord God, from dust I come, from dust I return. Following the diagnosis, I went through a series of tests such as mammogram, ultrasound, core biopsy, Sentinel Node Biopsy, MRI, CAT Scan, Bone Scan and many more.
I was still working when I was having all the tests. I tried to focus but couldn’t. It took me awhile to digest the news, so while driving home from work, I used to listen to Twila Paris’ “God is in Control”. This song gave me a new meaning, I asked if God was really in control. I cried and prayed and sought God for answers. This led me to me to reassess and evaluate myself. As Ecclesiastes 8:5-6 (NIV) says, “Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery.”
This was exactly how I felt. I didn’t understand why these things happened. It was hard to comprehend, why me? But as God is graceful only God can lead me and show me the way. I needed to trust Him for everything. I know have limited knowledge of his plans. But God is in Control, so I came from a state of shock, to acceptance and finally to a state of readiness to move on.
So in November 2011, I had a lumpectomy and a Sentinel Node Biopsy where they not only took out the tumour but also 3 lymph nodes. The Pathology report was a mixture of good and bad news. The good news was I had a 1.8 cm (almost stage 2) and the cancer had not metastasized. The bad news though was I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer, so I have a highly aggressive cancer with a Grade level III and the tendency for it to recur is high. Unfortunately for someone with a triple negative cancer like me, the only treatment available is chemotherapy and Radiation. Thus I could not benefit from any hormone therapy such as Herceptin or Tamoxifen.
At that time the physical stress is not as difficult as the emotional and psychological stress. Although with the acceptance that I had cancer and with God in Control, I still had to come into grips with my emotions, my worries about my children. My worries about our financial state and my life. How long do I have to live. Yes medications, lab tests and everything is free but now what? What next? It seems to be layer after layer. I was done with one phase, but I had to move on to the next phase. It was excruciating to think about “now what?” What to do next?
Hebrews 4:16 says,
16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This verse reminded me to just let go of my worries and to approach God and ask him for strength and guidance. One of the hurdles I had to go through was telling my children about my condition. Timing and emotional readiness was crucial at that point. First I acknowledged my illness and verified the facts. Sam and I had a small talk about it and then told our children. I told them not to worry because my cancer was highly manageable and the best thing is God is with us.
Then came my treatment which kept me away from work for a while. Socialization and fellowship was limited as I was confined at home. Sam requested to be late for work during my chemo and Karen my sister requested off so they both could bring me to the hospital for my treatments. On the other hand, my children were helpful around the house. This made our family even closer. It was an opportunity for me to see how my children reacted during difficult times. I think even though I was the one with the illness, I was also careful and mindful that the people who are directly around me were the ones stressed the most because they would probably worry if I were to make it or not.
Today, I look back at my experience with thanksgiving and praise to God because when I was feeling down, He provided me with an avenue of solace and comfort. Job 10:12 (NIV) says “12 You gave me life and showed me kindness,
and in your providence watched over my spirit. “
He did watch over me, during those dark and painful days. He showered me with blessings I could not imagine. Blessings and comfort for me and my family came in various ways. He sent brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours to our aid, to comfort us and to provide for our needs. When my church learned of my condition, they immediately came and prayed for my healing. Neighbours dropped by to provide soup or dishes. One neighbour always used to bring me some cookies or sweet treats and a cake for the holidays. I didn’t worry for groceries because miracles happen, God has his way of providing our needs. Allowances for my children were taken cared of by a friend. There were lots of heart warming Get Well Soon Cards. One heart warming moment was when a sister came over to sing me this beautiful song. I was in tears, imagine she and her husband came over to our house after church to sing for me because I was too sick to go to church.
I would say I was not alone. First, my help came from God. He carried us through our ordeal as a family. Because it was not just me, it was us. It is us. Although I had my Limitations, God’s grace was abundant
Now I am slowly getting back on track. My experience with Cancer, gave me a better perspective of my life, and the lives of people around me, of situations that I fail to understand. And although at times I lack understanding, I don’t have to know everything because thing will be revealed in due time.
Moreover just because God allowed this to happen to me it does not specifically mean that it is His will for me to suffer and to groan in pain or worry. Instead, he wanted me to have an abundant life, even during my treatment or after treatment. He wants me to be more dependent on Him as he is a sovereign God who is in control of everything. Even when things seemed unclear. My God is in control of my life. God provided me with brothers and sisters, friends and family to help me through. He gave me examples of women who had also been in my situation and are still here with us today. They were a great encouragement to me. God provided me with health practitioners whom I can ask straight forward questions about Cancer.
As of today, my hair has grown, surprisingly curly too. My most recent mammogram came out to be clear and my specialist said I everything is well. I will also go back to work soon. But there is no room for complacency in my part as I need to monitor my health. Eat healthy foods and listen to my body. Most of all continue to trust in God. I know that am not alone in my journey but everyone who are with me are my partners in my journey to recovery.
When the psalmist said: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever;”(Psalm 73:26 NIV) the psalmist made a point, he recognized that within this fragile vessel we are in, is the vulnerability to the pressures around us. I am no exception to this, thus I too must recognize that my strength is in the Lord. I am vulnerable and I need the strength that comes from the Lord.
And like the tall Birch tree I saw in the park, Although it has lost its leaves all its leaves. It had stood the test of harsh winter weathers and the changing of each season. Its branches arched up high. I too lift my hands to God in praise and thanksgiving. For each day is a new day, each season is a new beginning.